The Cory reports have exposed those sections of the British Crown forces in the North who engaged in their own murderous `Dirty War' in Ireland.

Agents were allowed to set up murders and loyalists were given military intelligence which were used to kill. Lawyers representing republicans were particular targets.

Even with 10 pages censored, the reports by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory into four of the most controversial killings represents an indictment of British rule in the Six Counties. All four cases showed signs of collusion, he said, and he called for a full public inquiry into each case, to begin immediately.

But yesterday only three inquiries were ordered, into the deaths of Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson, Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill and unionist paramilitary Billy Wright.

Hamill was attacked on a public street in front of a police patrol in April 1997, and died the following month from his injuries. Wright was shot dead by the INLA at Long kesh prison in December 1997, while Nelson was killed in a booby-trap car bomb in March 1999.

However, in a highly controversial decision, an announcement on an inquiry into the 1989 killing of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane will be delayed by up to two years while an ongoing prosecution is concluded.

Judge Cory said the British Army, MI5 military intelligence and RUC police Special Branch knew of the plot to assassinate Mr Finucane -- who was shot several times as he ate dinner with his family -- but they failed to warn him or do anything to prevent it.

One of the murder weapons, a British army pistol sold by a soldier to loyalist paramilitaries, may have been hidden later by an agent.

The judge said documents showed death threats by loyalist groups like the UDA, who shot Mr Finucane, were often disregarded, in contrast to IRA activity. Special Branch may have failed to take any steps to stop planned attacks it knew about.

British forces regarded human rights lawyers like Mr Finucane and Ms Nelson who defended prominent republicans as close ``associates'' of the IRA. This failure to make a distinction between ``law-abiding'' lawyers and their clients went right to the top of the police and included the former chief constable, Ronnie Flanagan.

Judge Cory said the so-called security services, and particularly the British Army's notorious Force Research Unit, were more concerned with safeguarding their loyalist paramilitary informers than stopping murders.

He described how the Stevens inquiry into army and police collusion with loyalist killers was blocked. ``The wilful concealment of pertinent evidence and the failure to cooperate with the Stevens inquiry can be seen as further evidence of the unfortunate attitude that then persisted ... Namely that they were not bound by the law and were above and beyond its reach.'' He said there was also evidence that British Army and RUC Special Branch were ``prepared to participate jointly in collusive acts in order to protect their perceived interests''.

Ms Nelson, a mother of three, had complained to the RUC of death threats from loyalists and told visiting US lawyers that RUC officers had ``conveyed threats to her through her clients during interrogations''. Judge Cory said questions had to be asked about whether officers had incited others to kill her. Furthermore, he said Mr Flanagan's attitude to lawyers who defended republicans showed how ``there might have been a reluctance to either protect or to thoroughly investigate threats to a troublesome solicitor''.

Commenting on the publication of the Cory Reports, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said rhe Cory cases were but ``the tip of the iceberg''.

``At least 80 people listed on the files of just one agent, Brian Nelson, the unionist paramilitary and British Intelligence agent, were attacked. 29 were shot dead. The British securocrats ran many more Brian Nelson's. They still do,'' Kelly said.

``MI5 recruited Nelson. MI5 reports directly to the British Prime Minister in Downing Street. That is where political clearance was given for the policy of collusion. That is where the responsibility lies. That is why a British Secretary of State for Defence sought to persuade the British Attorney General not to prosecute Nelson. That is why senior British officials were involved in the attempted cover up.''

Mr Kelly said the British government had been killing its own citizens with impunity.

``This is a scenario usually associated with repressive dictatorships. In any democracy in Europe the government would have fallen.''

``The structures which implemented this policy still exist. The agents are still being run. The handlers are still in place. We need to know where these people are now for many former members of Special Branch have since been placed into senior positions throughout the PSNI. They continue to have a malign influence over policing in the north,'' continued Kelly.

The Cory report and the British government's refusal to hold an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane raised a huge question mark over the current policing arrangement and SDLP policy, said Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams.

``Having made the fundamental mistake three years ago of accepting an inadequate policing arrangement the SDLP has compounded that grievous error through its unwillingness and inability to act as a radicalising, transforming force for change on the Policing Board.

``The SDLP is now to the fore in defending the PSNI, the force which contains those very people who planned, orchestrated and were responsible for the collusion strategy.

``The reality is that the Cory reports taken together and along with the mountain of other available evidence, is proof of the extent of administrative collusion and state sponsored murder. Hundreds died, many thousands more bear the physical and emotional scars of the death squads and of this British policy.

``Many of those who ran and carried through this strategy still serve British interests in the Special branch, in MI5 and within the political and bureaucratic structures, which established and protect those involved.

``The SDLP by its policing policy is failing all of those who supported the demand within the Good Friday Agreement for a new beginning to policing.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News